Creating a Map Layout from Start to Finish - Get Into Layout View

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While there is no "real and correct" way to work through creating a layout (cartographic product) in ArcMap, this guide will show you one logical flow of going from data analysis completion to exporting a PDF of the final product.  This guide will also show you some tricks in Layout View, such as how to align objects and how to pan/zoom the data participating in a layout vs. how to pan/zoom the entire  layout page (aka. the entire map itself).  Use the links on the left to jump to a desired section.

Switching from Data View to Layout View

Within ArcMap, the data analysis portion of your project is completed in Data View while the creation of a cartographic product/map/layout is completed in Layout View. The two views are kept separate and you are allowed to bounce back and forth between the two. 

  • Please note that in ArcGIS for Desktop (aka. ArcMap and ArcCatalog) you are only allowed one layout per MXD.  This means that if you need to make a different layout, for example - a different size of the output map, a different basemap,  or a series of different cartographic elements, you'll need to do a "Save As..." to complete a different layout.  Changes in your layout are permanent, and you can only use the Undo action back to the last save point.
  • ArcGIS Pro (introduced and used in Intermediate GIS), however, allows for multiple layouts within a single project (MXD).

There are two main ways to change from Data View to Layout View - via the View menu in ArcMap or via the buttons found at the bottom of the actual data frame (not the Data Frame Properties)

  1. ArcGIS is a complete GIS software, with analysis occurring in data view and cartography occurring in layout view. The first step in creating a cartographic layout is to switch ArcMap into layout view. The easiest method to accomplish this is to open the View Menu (top of the window) and select Layout View.
  1. Each time you start the layout for a project (as in, you haven’t saved any sort of cartography work in your MXD), ArcMap will present you with the same view. Your main data frame will be smaller then the print margins and will be centered in portrait view.
  1. The first thing that will help you to start a successful layout is to decide which way your paper should be turned: portrait or landscape. The general rule is to turn the page the same direction of your data. For example, a map of the Lower 48 would fit best in landscape mode while California would fit best in portrait view.
  1. Change the orientation of your page in the Page and Print Setup dialog box (found in the File menu)